Tomball ISD unveiled a Park-n-Learn initiative April 20, providing 24/7, free Wi-Fi access from the parking lots of four TISD campuses, according to an April 20 release. Initially launching at four campuses, TISD expanded Park-n-Learn to six campuses April 27.
At the six campuses, students and staff in the TISD community can park in the school parking lot and access the Wi-Fi for free from their vehicles. Campuses include Oakcrest Intermediate, Tomball Junior High, Creekview Elementary, Rosehill Elementary, Decker Prairie Elementary and Lakewood Elementary, according to district information.
"It's a consistent internet connection if families perhaps need that, they have the opportunity to come up to the school and sit in the parking lot area for that as well," Superintendent Martha Salazar-Zamora said during an April 13 teleconference workshop meeting with the TISD board of trustees. "It's been selected throughout the north and south of our district so that families can go to the school closest to them that has a very visible sign [for a Park-n-Learn]."
Salazar-Zamora said previously, the district had piloted placing Wi-Fi hot spots on its buses and parking in areas that lacked stable internet access. However, she said she believes boosting the internet access at several of its campuses instead is something that could prove to be a beneficial investment in the future.
"We thought we would put something on our facility that of course we could use moving forward whether or not these dollars are reimbursed," Salazar-Zamora said. "We're being told to keep a count of all of our expenditures that are additional, above and beyond, due to COVID-19 for reimbursement, but either way, but we're comfortable with the fact that we could utilize this in the future as well. This seemed like a better utilization of our dollars for a very reasonable price."
TISD did not provide the cost of the district's investment for the Park-n-Learn initiative.
Magnolia ISD has also opened up the parking lots at its elementary schools for students to access free Wi-Fi to complete remote learning assignments, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum Anita Hebert said April 15.
"We also opened up the parking lots at our elementary schools because they're in the neighborhoods," Hebert said. "Every day we'll see families that are there in their car with their kids."
Hebert said MISD rolled out remote learning slowly so the district could determine which students needed help accessing devices or internet before grades would be taken on assignments.
"As far as rolling out remote learning, our first goal in the first few weeks before we began to try to look at taking any type of grades ... was to get our kids connected. We put all our efforts into reaching our families, finding which kids could get on, helping people problem solve and get access and resources," Hebert said.
For students without internet access at home, MISD has promoted low-cost options by local providers as well as making its elementary school parking lots available for families to park and access the district's Wi-Fi from, Hebert said.
"We're so appreciative of the carriers in the community who are really jumping in and working on that for our community, because we're in a rural area," she said. "We have zones that don't have fiber internet there yet—only dial-up is available."
TISD has also shared internet resources with its families, said Allison Suarez, TISD director of communications and marketing, in an April 16 email.
"Tomball ISD provides families with a list of local Internet providers that are offering low cost or free services to families with students during the COVID-19 closures to continue their learning," she said.
Low-cost options include Comcast's Internet Essentials program and AT&T's Access program for eligible families. Comcast has also opened its Xfinity Wi-Fi hotspots to anyone needing internet access during the pandemic. The low-cost programs are currently offering special deals to help families afford internet access, according to company websites.
Additionally, Harris County Public Library rolled out drive-up Wi-Fi at most of its branches April 22, although this excludes the branch library at LSC-Tomball, Community Impact Newspaper previously reported.
Suarez said as of April 16 the district had connected with more than 98% of its students since launching remote learning in March. She said a count of families without internet access was not available.
Hebert said as of April 15, fewer than 5% of MISD's students have had to receive alternate learning plans, as the students have no way to access online resources.
"It's certainly a learning and growing time for all of us, and we've been so appreciative of the response of our community having patience with us and being so gracious as we're all learning together," Hebert said. "We will be better equipped for a future with technology having gone through this experience than we would have been before."
- New customers receive two free months of service if applying by June 30.
- For all Internet Essentials customers, speeds have been increased.
- Households with outstanding debt to Comcast may be eligible for Internet Essentials if approved by June 30.
- The current rate for service is $9.95 per month.
- Families who may be eligible include those who are eligible for public assistance programs, such as the National School Lunch Program.
- New customers receive two free months of service if ordering by April 30.
- Eligibility requirements have been expanded based on income.
- All home internet data overage fees are waived temporarily.
- Based on speed, services range from $5 per month to $10 per month.
- Families who may be eligible include those who are eligible for the National School Lunch Program or Head Start Program.
View a map of drive-up Wi-Fi options in Tomball and Magnolia here.